Winning is Tigers' only focus down stretch

Crowded AL Wild Card race makes every game count for Detroit

Winning is Tigers' only focus down stretch

CLEVELAND -- The quiet that had enveloped the visitors' clubhouse at Progressive Field after the Tigers' walk-off loss Saturday night gave way to a buzz Sunday afternoon. It wasn't exactly a victory celebration -- not after losing two out of three to the first-place Indians -- but it was at least a victory.

Players were angry after three hit-by-pitches, concerned about Ian Kinsler being struck in the head and relieved to salvage a game. Detroit was eager to move on to Minnesota after a day off on Monday, its last scheduled off-day of the regular season.

More importantly, the Tigers were ready to pivot. Their chase of the Indians, who are seven games up with 13 games to play, is a view from a distance. The American League Wild Card race, by contrast, has become a peloton.

Tigers talk about a heated game

"We've really got to win every single day," manager Brad Ausmus said. "That's how we look at it. Nobody has any illusions. We've got to win every single day. If we win every single day, we'll be in great shape. If not, we might need some help from somebody else."

With two weeks left in the regular season, the Tigers are essentially playing playoff baseball now.

"Obviously in a perfect world, we would've come in and gotten three wins [in Cleveland]. That didn't happen," catcher James McCann said. "We found a way to salvage the series with a win. Moving forward, it's win at all costs. Find a way to win, and let the chips fall as they may."

The Tigers gained ground in the AL Wild Card race thanks to the Blue Jays' loss to the Angels, moving Detroit within two games of the second spot. The Mariners entered Monday even with the Tigers, thanks to eight wins in their past 10 games.

Kinsler gets hit on the helmet

Toronto has a three-game series at Seattle, so any ground the Tigers gain on the Blue Jays will not allow them breathing room from the Mariners, and vice versa. The Orioles, who hold the top AL Wild Card spot, have a four-game series against the red-hot Red Sox, who could send Baltimore tumbling if Boston's recent winning ways continue. Meanwhile, the Astros -- a game behind Detroit and Seattle -- have three games at Oakland, followed by four against the Angels.

For that reason, it's too cluttered to estimate how many games the Tigers have to win. If Toronto goes 7-6 down the stretch, Detroit can't necessarily get in with nine more wins. For that reason, the Tigers' main focus has to be the Twins, whose split of a four-game series at Detroit dealt a dramatic blow to the Tigers' postseason chances.

"If we start worrying about what other teams are going to do, we're going to forget what we have to do as a team," McCann said.

Unless the Tigers sweep their three-game sets with the Twins, Royals and Braves -- or unless the Blue Jays or Orioles struggle down the stretch -- Detroit's path to an AL Wild Card berth almost requires beating Cleveland a couple times as the Indians visit Detroit next week for a four-game series that could be a clinching series for the Tribe.

"Regardless who's in the other dugout, we have to find a way to win ballgames," McCann said. "That's the bottom line. That's the easiest way to put it."

All of this factors into the Tigers' postseason chances, which have sunk from 57 percent a week and a half ago to 24 percent on Monday according to MLB.com and Fangraphs. Considering those chances stood at 17 percent before Sunday's win, every game matters. Two-game swings that seemed miniscule a month ago loom larger now.

Urgency, meanwhile, is ramping up.

"I think every game is a must-win game," Daniel Norris said, "no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the calculated numbers are. You got to go out there and win."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.